Vertical Farming-farmland of the future Cindy's blog 7/09/17

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Jonah Krochmalnek is the owner and operator of Living Earth Farms, an indoor vertical farm based at an industrial unit in North York.

Jonah Krochmalnek is a 26-year-old farmer. He pulls up to work every day ready to plant, tend and harvest a variety of organic greens and herbs.

He produces loads, too. In a given year — he doesn’t have to worry about seasons on his farm — Krochmalnek estimates he could grow 16,000 kilograms of pea shoots, if they were his only crop.Krochmalnek started four years ago, is no ordinary farm. That’s because it isn’t on a remote country road where plants have space to stretch out and soak up sunlight, but in an unassuming, 2,300square-foot industrial unit in North York, the same area where Krochmalnek grew up and still lives.

Living Earth is an indoor, vertical farm where crops grow in stacked rows seven layers high with special red and blue LED lights designed for optimal growing conditions shining down on them. It’s the first of its kind to be organic certified in Ontario.

Indoor farming is a new industry, especially in Canada, where Krochmalnek runs one of the first such businesses to get off the ground. He sells wholesale to distributors all year — a pot of living basil goes for $2.40 ($4-$5 retail) and a 100-gram clamshell of a variety of microgreens sells for $10 (restaurants buy them for around $15).

Since he grows indoors, he has to automate as much of the growing process as possible and ensure that it’s efficient enough to make money.

In fact, most of what makes up Living Earth Farms was put together by Krochmalnek himself, from the giant fans that control humidity to the sub-irrigation system that keeps plants watered without risking contamination. His choice of red and blue LED lights was informed by NASA research aimed at figuring out how to grow food in space.

“This is probably somewhat of a model that will be used if we go to Mars,” he said.  By growing indoors, Krochmalnek is able to produce food year-round. It’s kind of like having a greenhouse — only it requires a seventh of the space to produce the same yield and uses about 95 per cent less water than traditional farms for crops such as lettuce. To think he can grow crops in any climate, year round, with 95 per cent less water, using no pesticides and he doesn’t produce any of the waste that comes with industrial agriculture.

It is estimated that by the year 2050, close to 80% of the world’s population will live in urban areas and the total population of the world will increase by 3 billion people.  A very large amount of land may be required depending on the change in yield per hectare. Scientists are concerned that this large amount of required farmland will not be available and that severe damage to the earth will be caused by the added farmland. Vertical farms, if designed properly, may eliminate the need to create additional farmland and help create a cleaner environment. Because vertical plant farming provides a controlled environment, the productivity of vertical farms would be mostly independent of weather and protected from extreme weather events.

“In the winter, something like basil takes me 16 days to grow. In a greenhouse, almost double that,” Krochmalnek said.

The quality, he said, is “not even close.” “My basil tastes like summer. Basil in the winter grown in a greenhouse tastes like water.”

The reason for the difference is simply that the space Krochmalnek has designed is ripe for growing. It is, as Krochmalnek describes it, the “perfect plant environment.”

“It’s 100-per-cent certain that this will be part of the future. It won’t be the whole future for agriculture, but it’ll be a big part for leafy greens and perishable crops,” he said.

Rhonda Teitel-Payne, co-coordinator of Toronto Urban Growers, said that while urban farms like Krochmalnek’s are unlikely to be sufficient to feed cities, they play an important role in food security and connecting people to the food system.

“We are going to see more and more farmers, more rooftop growers, more vertical systems because people are running out of options in terms of access to land,” she said. Land is scarce, interest is growing.


Excerpts from Sept 5 article by ALEX MCKEEN STAFF REPORTER Toronto Star